Aruba: The Best All-Around Caribbean Destination
Aruba owes the Beach Boys a debt of gratitude for writing and performing Kokomo. All together now…Aruba, Jamaica, oooh, I wanna take ya. I understand if that stays in your head for the next few hours—it does it to me every time! While the song is a great advertisement for Aruba, the Arubans themselves may be their island’s best promoter.
Tourists are welcomed with open arms, and
Aruba’s hospitality hasn’t gone unnoticed. This
Dutch paradise been honored as the “Best All-Around
Caribbean Destination” by readers of Travel & Life
magazine and lauded by honeymooners and cruise ship passengers
who’ve made it one of the top ports of call in the Caribbean.
The reasonsare many and varied: warm and inviting locals,
turquoise waters, long, luxurious white sand beaches, pulsating
nightlife, intriguing sightseeing and plenty of hotels and
resorts to match any pocketbook.
Aruba is relatively small in landmass, measuring just 20 miles by six miles with most of the visitor areas lined up along the southwestern shore. Minutes away is the capital of Oranjestad with its typical Dutch architecture and flamboyant Caribbean colors. It’s also the place to do some shopping for souvenirs. Browse the marketplace for Aruban art and local handicrafts and the upscale shops for luxury items.
While you’re in town, stop
in at any of the local restaurants and sample the
island fare. Some also come alive at night and feature
live music and dancing. Carlos & Charlie’s
along the harbor is a wise choice, as is the Crow
Bar atop the Royal Plaza Mall, though the music
is more for the younger crowd—or young at
heart. If you’re in the mood to make a night
of it, try Mambo Jambo, Choose A Name, La Fiesta,
Cheerios and Café Bahia. For those who just
want to sit and listen to either jazz or more relaxed
live music, definitely stop in at Plaza Café,
Chaos or Scandals.
Music seems to be the catalyst for the jump in vacationers over the past couple of years. Credited for bringing in the masses are the Soul Beach Music Festival that occurs Memorial Day weekend each year, and the widely acclaimed Aruba Music Festival that is staged every October. The Soul Beach Music Festival, which will celebrated its fifth anniversary this May (2005), delivers dazzling beats and world-renowned artists over the five-day run. The 2004 performers included Sean Paul, Chaka Khan, Wyclef Jean and Maze featuring Frankie Beverly. One evening of comedy entertainment also spices up the festivities.
October will usher in the fourth annual music festival, but it will be hard-pressed to top last year’s extravaganza. Two of the biggest names in music, Jackson Browne and John Mayer, turned the island paradise into a rock and roll paradise. Browne performed first at the outdoor venue to a sellout crowd and performed many of his notable hits, including Running on Empty, Doctor My Eyes and Stay. Browne was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame by Bruce Springsteen last year and has sold over 15 million albums worldwide.
A much younger and more outgoing audience welcomed Mayer to the stage on the second night and he didn’t disappoint, delivering a number of songs off his hit album, including the chart-topping Daughters. His creative songwriting and warm stage presence have already established him as a formidable musical force. At the end of each night’s concert, there was still plenty of opportunity to party the night away at any of the myriad casinos on the island. Aruba’s hotels are also noted for their entertainment, with at least one theme-night party going on at a resort virtually every evening.
There is a wealth of other activities to do on this island continually cooled by trade winds. Most visitors don’t expect to find underground caves on a tropical island, but Guadirikiri Cave is an exception. The cave’s 100-foot long tunnel is home to hundreds of harmless bats and contains two inner chambers. Nearby, the Fontein Cave sports Arawak Indian drawings and is a powerful reminder of the island’s indigenous history. Couples aren’t the only ones who will want to visit the Tunnel of Love, a name that fits, given the tunnel’s heart-shaped entrance. The cave winds through eerie rock formations and narrow passages, affording the adventurous quite an experience.
Because Aruba is small, renting a 4-wheel drive vehicle is a smart way to get around. Sites along the main road include the picturesque California Lighthouse, the quaint Alto Vista Chapel and the Bushiribana gold mill ruins. Gold was discovered in 1824, and mining flourished until the 1920s, when the veins gave out. The Natural Bridge is a tourist attraction that has withstood the test of time. Measuring over 100 feet long and 25 feet above sea level, it is the Caribbean’s highest and most dramatic coral structure and the island’ most photographed site. On the way to the bridge, visit the Ostrich Farm. The guided tours start at 9 a.m. and continue until 4 a.m. You can get up close to these animals, and even feed them. For a taste of ostrich meat, lunch at the Savanna Lodge on the farm property. The back roads of Aruba run along the rugged north coast, passing peculiar rock formations, cacti and the famous divi-divi trees, bent over due to the prevailing winds. Arikok National Park should not be overlooked on the tour. This desert-like preserve is composed of a large swath of land stretching from the northeast coast inland. It contains several miles of walking and hiking trails that afford onlookers a taste of historic and cultural treasures aptly preserved in protected areas. The rich crust of the island makes it one of the rare places in the world where you can trace its geological origins with the naked eye.
Offshore, Aruba is home to many reefs and some of the world’s most fascinating shipwrecks. The California Wreck is a great site for advanced divers. More than 100 years old, the Californian is a steam ship that sank off the northwest coast in 1891. It is still a prime location to see the variety of underwater life that resides in these waters.
Fortunately for Aruba, everyone responds to its beckon call. Honeymooners, sun-worhsippers, snorkelers, sailors, families, senior visitors, actors, musicians, weekend gamblers and shoppers have made their way here over the decades. That’s music to its ears.
Snuba in Aruba by Wendy O'Dea
Aruba Tourism Authority—www.aruba.com
Photos Courtesy of the Aruba Tourism Authority.